With Colts’ Andrew Luck, decision making, not sliding technique, the main issue

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Andrew Luck (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 25, 2016) – We’re not here to argue with Jim Irsay or critique Andrew Luck’s sliding technique.

We’re just here to insist sliding – Luck giving himself up and going down at the end of a scramble rather than taking on hostile defenders – isn’t the overriding concern moving forward.

From this corner, the issue is Luck toeing that fine line and weighing the risk-reward factor whenever a play breaks down and it’s on his shoulders – feet, actually – to make something out of nothing.

No one has more invested in Luck than Irsay. In the next few months the owner of the Indianapolis Colts is expected to sign off on a multi-year extension for Luck that likely will make him the highest-paid player in NFL history. Think of a contract averaging in the $22-23 million per season neighborhood. The truly staggering part of the extension probably will be the guaranteed money.

During this week’s owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., Irsay discussed several Luck-related topics with Indianapolis media covering the event.

Initially, he reaffirmed his franchise quarterback has totally recovered from a lacerated kidney that forced him to miss the final seven games of last season. Irsay initially pronounced Luck had been medically cleared in January.

“I don’t have any health concerns,’’ Irsay said. “There is nothing from his injuries that is going to be a lingering aspect.’’

Then he mentioned the team has had internal discussions about Luck’s hit-and-miss sliding style.

“If we have to bring in a baseball player or a baseball coach to talk about the slide . . .’’ Irsay said. “(Seattle QB) Russell Wilson is a baseball player. He does it so naturally when he slides.

“Andrew has struggled a little bit more. But I think that’s his competitive nature saying ‘Do I shut it down or do I get that extra 2 yards?’ His competitive nature goes for it. We’ve talked about (that).’’

Luck has waged those debates internally. Some of the punishment he’s absorbed could have been prevented, or at least minimized.

“Part of me thinks I brought it upon myself by not sliding on certain situations and realize there’s a time and place for taking a hit,’’ he said

He sustained what proved to be a season-ending injury Nov. 8 against Denver, and it occurred in one of those “certain situations:’’ second-and-9 at the Broncos 12-yard line, first play of the fourth quarter in a 17-17 game.

Unable to find a receiver while given adequate protection by his offensive line, Luck drifted to his left and headed toward the goal line. At the 8, a pair of Broncos defenders sandwiched him, hitting him high and low.

On the next play, Luck hit running back Ahmad Bradshaw with a go-ahead 8-yard touchdown pass. The Colts eventually won 27-24.

“I guess I’m not going to apologize in that sense because sometimes it is appropriate,’’ he said. “But sliding is certainly a part of the game that I still need to improve on and we’ve talked about this before. It’s no secret.’’

However, whether Luck’s slide is textbook or straight out of Little League is secondary to how he approaches the NFL’s most influential position. And that is the issue. Former quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen worked relentlessly at getting Luck to understand when it was prudent to give up on a play. The fact it’s been an on-going issue for four seasons speaks volumes about Luck’s competitiveness, or stubbornness.

“It’s in his DNA. It’s how he plays the game,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said at the owners meetings. “You don’t want to ankle-weight him, handcuff him to a certain point to where you’re taking away that ability.’’

At last month’s NFL Scouting Combine, general manager Ryan Grigson was asked how much responsibility fell on Luck to protect himself and take fewer risks.

“Andrew is who he is,’’ he said. “He knows what is smart and what is ill-advised as a player. He knows take the sack, throw it out of bounds. He sees all the great ones do that. That’s why they play forever.

“You’ve got to learn how to do that if you want to extend your career and not take those vicious hits.’’

Yet in certain situations, the Colts have to allow Luck to be Luck.

“It’s that spirit within him,’’ Grigson said. “I’ve never seen a quarterback beat our skill guys on an interception to the ball carrier. He goes like a missile to go blow that guy up. He is a true competitor.

“He’s done it with his legs as well. So it’s a Catch-22 sometimes because you say ‘Hey, take the sack.’ But when he runs for 20 yards, you say, ‘Well, we’ll take that.’’’

Last season reaffirmed to Luck one of the league’s undeniable axioms: the greatest ability is availability.

“You have to be on the field to help your team is a simple truth,’’ he said. “Too much is invested in you as the quarterback to not be out there, so you’ve got to be out there.’’

Perhaps, Irsay noted, the 2015 season will turn out to be an aberration on Luck’s career resume.

“We want to look at this year as ‘Oh, do you remember that year?’’’ he said. “I mean, (Tom) Brady had one, Peyton (Manning) had one, Edgerrin James had one. We hope this was just Andrew’s back-luck year on the injury.

“He knows he has to stay healthy, that that’s part of his legacy. You can’t be a great player in this league unless you stay healthy. You just can’t.

“Obviously at quarterback, Andrew has the responsibility to make educated decisions, to protect himself. He knows that. As we go forward, we want to see him at times slide, throw it away, keep him out of harm’s way. We have to do a better job of protecting him.’’

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